ON STAGE: ‘Rasheeda Speaking’ will ‘give you something to talk about’

Office politics and racial tensions are the subject with Jaclyn (Angie Henderson-Goode) and Ileen (Leah O’Hara) in Allens Lanes Philadelphia premiere of “Rasheeda Speaking.”
Office politics and racial tensions are the subject with Jaclyn (Angie Henderson-Goode) and Ileen (Leah O’Hara) in Allens Lanes Philadelphia premiere of “Rasheeda Speaking.” Photo Courtesy of Scott Grumling
Jaclyn (Angie Henderson-Goode) makes a peace offering to Ileen (Leah O’Hara) in “Rasheeda Speaking.”
Jaclyn (Angie Henderson-Goode) makes a peace offering to Ileen (Leah O’Hara) in “Rasheeda Speaking.” Photo Courtesy of Scott Grumling

Considering the turbulent racial climate, “Rasheeda Speaking” couldn’t be more topical. The clever off-Broadway hit, which was written by Joel Drake Johnson, blends awkward workplace comedy and intense racial tension. “Rasheeda Speaking” which will run from Nov. 17 to Dec. 3 at the Allens Lane Arts Center, examines the realities of the so called “post-racial” America when two middle-aged female workers, one black, one white, are driven apart by the machinations of their manipulative boss.

“The playwright had an experience when he went to a doctor’s office in which he ended up complaining about the service from a black receptionist,” Scott Grumling, who is directing the play at Allens Lane Art Center, said. “The receptionist ended up getting fired. He wondered if the receptionist were white, would he have made the complaint.”

Johnson wrote the play about a white doctor and a white receptionist and a black receptionist. The receptionists were friendly until the doctor pushed their buttons.

“The doctor actually gives the white receptionist the title of office manager in a two-person office,” Grumling said. “That’s absurd. The reality is that the black receptionist is subjected to racism every day but she knows how to deal with it.”

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As the play, which was directed Off- Broadway by Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” fame, develops, it inspires debate. Who is right? What is fair? Who deserves their fate? “There is no villain in this play,” Grumling said. “Rasheeda Speaking” is about friendships and relationships.”

And there is subtlety. The black receptionship, who is the title character, never looks anyone in the eye until the end of the play. Rasheeda appears to the third wheel but by the middle of the play it’s evident that she is the protagonist.

“It’s a thought provoking play,” Grumling said. People have to deal with their own background and perceptions while experiencing “Rasheeda Speaking.” At certain points you can’t help but think about something that happened to you in the past. You may wonder if you were wrong. Did you make a snap judgment? After catching this play it’s the perfect time to have a discussion on racism no matter what your race is. It played for two months off-Broadway in 2015. Dianne Wiest (“Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Parenthood”) and Tonya Pinkins (“Jelly’s Last Jam”) starred in it then. But this is a very timely play. We think it’s perfect considering what’s happening now in society. This will definitely give you something to talk about.”

IF YOU GO

“Rasheeda Speaking” appears Nov. 17, 18, 24 and 25 and Dec. 1 and 2 for shows at 8 p.m. Shows Nov. 19, 26 and Dec. 3 are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. For more information, 215-248-0546, www.allenslane.org. Allens Lane Arts Center is at 601 West Allens Lane, Philadelphia.